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The report is aimed at reviewing the cross culture communication practices in the multinational company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) having a very diverse team of employees. As a Masters graduate working in the world’s sixth largest pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline plc having headquarters in London, UK, it is expected that strategies and policies are suggested to reduce the misunderstandings, conflicts and problems that arise when people from diverse cultural background come together. In addition, few cultural frameworks would be utilized for analyzing company’s current cross cultural communication practices. In the last section of report, a reflective study would be included depicting my experience and learning while studying for this report that assisted me in overcoming my own cultural biases.
Cross cultural communication:
Every person’s basic behavior is largely affected by his cultural background and the way he has been raised and when people from diverse cultural background come together, their communication as well is impacted by the same. The study of the ways through which people belonging to different cultures communicate and their way of endeavoring this communication is cross culture communication.
Multinational companies operating in global economy are bound to have their employees from diverse cultural backgrounds and it becomes really very important for these companies to understand and effectively manage cross cultural communication to successfully grow and sustain in current competitive era. It basically involves an understanding of how people from different culture speak, communicate and perceive things around them and also knowing about their choices and preferences (Watty & Udechukwu, 2014).
GlaxoSmithKline comprises of huge and diverse workforce from almost every part of the world including Asian, American, European, Australian and Middle Eastern employees, and for the organization to successfully thrive the competition and achieve organizational aims and objectives, effective business communication is required. In fact, it has been found that companies having workforce belonging to different cultural backgrounds perform better and give better results than the one having less diverse workforce. This improved work and performance efficiency may be attributed to the fact that diversity brings completeness. There may be few employees from a particular area that are more efficient in technical and practical aspects while few may have strong theoretical background, some may have better speaking and explaining qualities yet few others would be efficient in making work environment friendly. Thus, it is very essential for business teams to comprise of people with different skills and abilities, faiths and beliefs, and thoughts and preferences so that the company can have broader view of things and successfully overcome several obstacles as well. It is definitely beneficial for companies to have cross cultural team, however, there occurs several misunderstandings and conflicts, too, making it essential to effectively manage communication between diverse team members (Romani & Claes, 2014).
Current communication challenges:
As employees from different cultural backgrounds have their own way of interpreting verbal and non verbal communication, their way of interaction, decision making process as well as approach to conflicts differ as well. GSK is full of employees from different countries, and therefore the company faces various communication challenges as follows:
Fluency and accent issues:
The first and major challenge in the company is of language and accent among employees that leads to misunderstandings and confusion in meetings and tasks. For instance, although Australian, Indian as well as European employees speak English but their accents and fluency varies a lot and thus, at times Indian employees fail to understand or miss out important things causing confusion, frustration and interpersonal conflicts. It may even decrease the motivation level of employees which in turn, greatly hamper individual as well as organizational progress.
Direct and indirect communication:
The major difference in western and non western cultural communication is that western people have a habit of direct communication as they directly put what they intend to say while the same is not true with non western culture. For instance an Indian employee or Middle Eastern employee would just suggest an option in an implied way rather than saying it directly, thus, their communication with European or Australian employees may result in confusion and misunderstandings.
Decision making process:
People belonging to different culture have different way of resolving conflicts and taking decisions including the time taken to reach final decision, steps in whole process and amount of efforts taken. Thus, when a team comprises of members of different cultures, their different attitude and styles lead to conflicts and ego clash (Hall, 2009).
The actions and behavior of a person in a given culture are largely affected by his thoughts, opinions, feelings as well as his upbringing. People may belong to either low context or high context cultures. European and Australian cultures are considered low context cultures where employees are more direct, individualistic and usually make decisions on the basis of facts and figures. On the other hand, Indian and other Asian cultures are considered the high context one who considers trust as the most significant aspect in making business deals. Thus, Indian employees are collectivists and are more inclined towards healthy interpersonal relationships and would be interested in knowing their co workers or seniors personally.
For GSK to overcome these communication barriers and problems among their diverse workforce, it is really very important to create a culture of awareness where employees are trained and explained to respect each other’s cultures. Employee unity and high morale are two very essential part of an organization that it assists in successfully achieving desired objectives and reach higher positions in market. Employees and managers need to understand the importance of cooperating and collaborating with each other at workplace by minimizing differences and improving mutual understanding. This will help in encouraging new ideas, would save time and other resources and would definitely improve company’s efficiency. So, for promoting effective cross culture communication and minimizing misunderstandings following measures need to be taken:
1. First and foremost essential thing is understanding and accepting the differences that exist in a multicultural workforce and then using them positively for company’s benefits.
2. Next important thing is that the employees need to be trained in following ways:
3. Providing cultural knowledge to employees so as to improve their communication skills with people from diverse background. They are required to know and understand basic beliefs, psychology and choices of people from other cultures to not offend them by their undesirable behavior and actions (Bholanath, 2008).
4. Train them about study roles of various cultures having major impact on communication and decision making. As they need to learn which cultural people are more towards masculine or which are towards feminine to have better understanding of their decision making process.
5. They need to understand the language of context and must modify the behavior as per their deal with high context cultural person or low context cultural person. They must be trained to effectively se their non verbal communication like gestures, body language, etc to not offend their colleagues and improve communication.
6. Another essential thing is to have an open mindedness to readily accept different behaviors and actions.
7. Employees need to understand significance of active listening and must be motivated to do the same. They must be trained to patiently and respectfully listen others viewpoints (Mayer & Louw, 2012).
8. They must be explained that every person has some his own cultural biases and assumptions that are knowingly and unknowingly imposed over others, so they need to be culturally mindful to adapt with diverse colleagues and team mates.
9. Employees need to be trained to be patient and have faith as working outside one’s culture or in a cross cultural teams can always bring surprises. A behavior that is acceptable in one culture may not be acceptable in another and would cause misunderstandings. So they need to handle things patiently.
10. Company should also take steps to make their employees accepted as well as valued. Their concerns, opinions and views need to be considered without irrespective of their cultural background.
11. To minimize accent and fluency issues, written communication like emails, messages, letters, etc should be encouraged and in case verbal communication is required, it must be kept very clear, simple and unambiguous.
12. Another important strategy is to organize monthly conflict resolution meetings where every employee would be given an opportunity to keep his issues and discuss problems openly with responsible authorities and steps would be taken to resolve interpersonal conflicts. They would be provided with information about each others’ cultural backgrounds and would be encouraged to appreciate the same (Schein, 2010).
13. To encourage casual interactions among employees and strengthen trust, formal and informal gatherings need to be organized by the company where even the family members can come together and feel connected to each other. These would greatly improve communication skills.
14. Team leaders need to be optimistic, open to new ideas and must appreciate cultural difference. They must actively listen to their team members that would improve cultural understandings and would also motivate employees to consider and respect each other’s point of view.
In order to review the cross cultural communication in GlaxoSmithKline, a very well known and widely accepted cultural framework given by Geert Hofstede has been used. This model is basically based on the fact that a particular culture exerts major impact on values of people belonging to that culture that eventually is reflected in their behavior. Thus, by using a structure derived from factor analysis, the values and behavior of people of different cultural background are predicted (Hofstede, 1991).
The original model given by Hofstede used only four dimensions for analyzing cultural values viz individualism- collectivism, uncertainty- avoidance, power distance and masculinity- femininity. Later fifth and sixth component like long term orientation and indulgence and self restraint were added. These dimensions are internationally accepted for understanding and explaining cultural differences and thus, have been used for analyzing cross cultural practices in GSK (Garvin,et al, 2014). The six dimensions of the model are as follows:
Power distance index
This dimension measures the degree of inequality existing in the society and the degree to which it is accepted between powerful people and dependent ones. A cultural society with high PDI score signifies that there is unequal distribution of power and people identifies their position in the society whereas a lower PDI score suggests that power is shared and distributed and the people have not accepted the unequal distribution of power.
GSK comprises of Australian and Indian employees where Indian people have high score of 77 PDI that indicates that people have readily accepted and appreciate the top down structure of society and thus, employees readily gets dependent over their boss. They expect that they would be directly and clearly given demand and could be asked for expected outcomes directly as well. On the contrary, Australian PDI score is lower (36) suggesting that hierarchy is for convenience and thus, employees as well as managers expect to equally share information and have an informal and participative communication.
Individualism – Collectivism (IDV):
This dimension is about the strength of the connection shared by people of a culture. High IDV score suggests that people feel less connected with other people and usually do not take responsibility of their actions or results. While a lower IDV signifies a collective society where people stay loyal to their groups and stand together in case of success or failure (Hofstede, 1991).
IDV score of Australia is 90 while that of India is 48 suggesting that Australia is highly individualistic society and thus these people are not much affected by other people. They are more concerned with themselves and the immediate family and thus, the decision like promotion, hiring etc are also taken purely depending upon merit and qualities. On, the other hand, Indian society has an intermediate score signifying that it is a mixed society of collectivists and individualistic people. People may either give high preference to their group members and would work for everyone’s good or they may show individualistic behavior concerned just with their own life and deeds.
Masculinity Vs femininity (MAS):
This dimension signifies the role distribution between males and females in a cultural society. Cultures having high score that is masculine society is characterized by competition, achievements and success and there is less overlap between men and women roles. Societies with lower MAS score have more overlap between male and female roles and quality of life is given more importance than achievements. Masculine society emphasize on being best while feminine society focus on doing what one likes.
Australia and India have quite similar MAS score of 61 and 56 and thus, both are masculine societies. Indian people believe in visual display of power and success through flashing branded things, etc. Australian people also feel pride with success and achievements and strive to be best in their fields (Minkov & Hofstede, 2014).
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI):
It is the index of people’s strength against anxiety and the way they try to control their lives or let things happen. People belonging to culture with high UAI wish to have a controllable and predictable life and believe that they can’t control their future while people belonging to low UAI score are quite more open and relaxed.
India has score 40 suggesting that people have little low preference to avoid uncertainty. They welcome unexpected things and readily accept them while Australia has intermediate score of 51 suggesting that these people also have medium preference to avoid uncertainty.
Long term orientation:
This fifth dimension of Hofstede model is about the belief in links with own past deeds while facing current and upcoming challenges. Societies can be pragmatic with high score that emphasize on taking efforts in modern education to face new challenges while normative society with low score emphasize on maintain time honored traditions and have a suspicious view towards change.
Australia is a more of normative society with score 21 and thus have great respect for their traditions and customs; do not have habit of saving mush or worrying for future and believe in achieving quick results. On the other hand, Indian people have an intermediate score of 51 suggesting that their preference cannot be clearly determined. However, people are very religious and philosophical; most of them belong to Hinduism and thus, believe in idea, views, practices and esoteric beliefs (Hofstede, 1991).
Indulgence Vs. Restraint (IVR):
This dimension measures the extent up to which people keep their desires and impulses in control. People with weak control over the desires come under indulgence category while the one having strong control are called restraint. Indian culture have a low score of 26 signifying that people are more tend to be pessimist and cynicism. These restrained people try to control the gratification of their desires and believe that their actions would be restrained with their society’s norms. On the contrary, Australia has a high score of 71 suggesting that people are indulgent, are positive towards life and are filling to fulfill their desires to enjoy life to the fullest.
Thus, by using this cultural framework model, the behaviors and actions of employees in GSK could be predicted and thus, the expected problems can be determined. Employees can be imparted required knowledge and would be trained to keep patience while dealing with each other. They need to respect each other’s choices and preferences and bring slight differences in their own behavior accordingly so as to minimize conflicts and improve work efficiency.
Doing this cross cultural analysis of the company was really a very enlightening and learning experience for me as it gave an opportunity to know about various new concepts and facts. First and foremost I understood the advantages of having a diverse workforce of a company. Initially I always use to see only the negative aspects of work teams having members from different cultural background. I have always perceived it as a disadvantage since have seen few conflict, confusion and misunderstanding cases. But this review really helped in knowing the positive aspect of such teams and companies. I realized that having a diverse workforce is more of a boon as it really helps in improving the work efficiency. Since people from different backgrounds have different skills, qualities and abilities, they can make their individual contribution in bringing success to the company. Each and every employee should be valued by the organization as he has many things to give and one can learn a lot from him. Moreover, I also realized that having less knowledge about other people’s cultural backgrounds or customs can lead to so many misunderstandings. For instance, physical display of affection is a very normal behavior for Europeans while Indian may find it offending. Thus, I realized the importance of giving knowledge and training to employees about different culture and societies.
In addition, I also became aware of the significance of non verbal communication that may annoy a person of different culture. Thus, people need to take proper care of the way they are moving their hands, or eyes and stay conscious about their body language as these can exert major impact over their communication and outcomes. Finally, learning and studying Hofstede model of cultural framework was a very enlightening part since it really helped me in knowing various things I was unaware of. I hardly had any idea about such deep dimensions of differentiating various cultures and so, it was quite interesting and amazing experience to know about these facts (Nathan, 2015). I also became aware of my own cultural biases and would work to overcome them in future. I understood the significance of effectively manage cross cultural teams of company through proper training sessions, organizing social gatherings, valuing each employee and keeping patience to successfully achieve short term and long term objectives of the company.
Globalization has given a chance to people from different cultural background to come together and work. At present, almost every other multinational company have workforce from diverse cultural background where they need to communicate with each other on a daily basis and this communication practices of every person is largely affected by his cultural background leading to different ways and preferences. These different communication choices and ways lead to misunderstandings, confusion and conflicts as well at times. Thus, it is very essential to effectively manage these cross cultural communication practices through proper employee training and encouraging them to understand each other’s culture so as to have a cooperative, open minded and encouraging work environment.
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